Her attempt didn’t work.
“I should’ve shot him,” Noah said. “That’s what my Dad said the day he found me with the gun. After I told him, he said I should’ve shot the bastard.”
“I want to shoot your father right now,” Kit ground out. “Jesus Christ, that man has no business being a father.” Her parents might be feckless and self-involved, but the one time she’d had a bully come after her in school, they’d marched in and torn the principal a new one, then confronted the bully’s parents. “Where was your mother in all this?”
“Shopping, tanning, taking Emily for walks in her stroller, anything to get away from the reality of a defiled child.” A vicious smile on his face. “She can’t look at me, did you notice?”
She had. Now that she knew why, she wanted to pound Noah’s mother into dust, just crush her out of existence. “That’s on her.” Kit’s voice shook with sheer fury. “It’s the job of a parent to be there for their child, to kiss the hurts and fight the monsters. It sucks that yours failed at that.” She reached out to brush back his hair.
When he grew stiff, she nearly withdrew, but gut instinct forced her to keep going, keep running her fingers through the golden strands. If he wanted her to stop, he’d pull away.
Inch by inch, second by second, his muscles eased until she braced her back against a tree, stretched out her legs, and coaxed him to put his head in her lap so she could continue to play with his hair. “Have you ever spoken to anyone about this?”
“No, I mean a counselor, or—”
“No. And that’s not going to change.”
“No.” He closed his eyes, one knee drawn up on the picnic blanket and shoulder muscles bunched again. “I’m not going to spill my guts to some shrink. Not now, not ever. It’ll end up on the front page of a tabloid the next day.”
That tone was one she’d rarely heard from him, but it always meant a hard, bright line beyond which he would not negotiate.
The worst thing was that she couldn’t even argue with him. She was sure there were trustworthy psychologists and counselors out there, but they kept records and those records went into computer systems or into filing cabinets, and Noah was a high-profile man. All it would take was a single nosy receptionist or file clerk who couldn’t keep the news to himself or herself, and it would end up in the tabloids, front and center.
Oh, the articles would be cloyingly sweet, giving lip service to Noah’s courage and strength, but all the while, they’d be ripping him to shreds by bringing up the most horrific time of his life over and over and over again. He wouldn’t be able to escape the knowledge in people’s eyes, and knowing Noah as she did and having just heard what he believed about masculinity and strength, she knew that would destroy him.
What she didn’t know was if he’d walk away from her too, now that she knew.
For this moment, he lay there quietly as she stroked her fingers through his hair, his eyes closed. She didn’t know when she realized the rhythm of his breathing had changed.
He was asleep.
Eyes wide, she almost halted in her soothing strokes, caught herself before she could interrupt the rhythm. If Noah was finally sleeping, especially after what he’d just told her, she wasn’t about to wreck it.
She didn’t know how long she sat there, lazily stroking her fingers through his hair, but the night was beyond quiet when he stirred.
“Wassasleep?” he mumbled, the words running together.
“Yes.” She stretched out her stiff legs when he rolled over to lie on his front, a pillow under his head. “You want to stay out here?”
Getting up, she went inside and grabbed a thick afghan throw to put over him. The nights could get cool, and he was already on nothing but a picnic blanket. She was tempted to stay beside him, but she wouldn’t take what he wasn’t ready—or able—to give. From what she’d picked up after all these years of knowing him, Noah never actually slept with another person.
She tucked the throw into place and was about to leave when a strong hand encircled her ankle. Looking down, she saw that he was still in the same position on the pillow, his head turned away from her. Yet when she tried to tug away her foot, his fingers tightened.
Lips curving in a shaky smile, she said, “I need to go find a sleeping bag. You might like the cold, hard ground, but I prefer luxury.”